Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
By Jim Judge
Over the last two thousand years Christianity has changed nation after nation, culture after culture, from the inside out, one person at a time. That clear fact of history is not lost on world leaders today, and thus in many places around our world, anyone identified as a missionary is viewed as a hostile, a subversive, a true “persona non grata.”
This is particularly true in the greater Muslim world, where in spite of intense restrictions, the number of missionaries nearly doubled between 1982 and 2001—from more than 15,000 to somewhere in excess of 27,000. These nations do not welcome Christian missionaries with open arms. In order to penetrate these countries with the Gospel, many of our WBC missionaries are forced to make sure the word missionary is kept far away from their day-to-day identities.
The information age is, of course, making this an increasingly difficult job to accomplish. Many nations routinely monitor private email correspondence, websites, Facebook, and Twitter postings, looking for anything that might indicate that the foreigner in their midst might be on a faith-based mission.
For that reason, in these nations our missionaries go unlabeled as such but wear, instead, other labels, such as health worker or teacher or psychologist. This creates a good deal of day-to-day tension for the missionaries on several levels.
First, the secrecy comes at a cost. The everyday reality that you are living a life that cannot be openly shared can be wearing. Missionaries in these kinds of situations can find themselves more prone to anxiety, fear, restlessness, and depression.
Second, the consequences of being “outed” as a missionary might be extreme—everything from immediate expulsion to imprisonment to physical harm.
That is why many of our missionaries are only ever referred to by either their first names or initials and why their locations are listed vaguely as “South Asia” or “Northern Africa.” We do this in an effort to protect them from some misuse of their information. All part of a concerted effort to not place them in harm’s way.
But the ethical question remains. Is all this intrigue, all this “James Bond stuff” really necessary?
What about Acts 4:18-20? Shouldn’t we just follow the example of Peter and John? “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”
Shouldn’t the missionaries in hostile territory just gut it out and let those around them know exactly why they have come? It would be interesting to get a show of hands from the people who hold strongly to this way to thinking as to how likely they would be to go themselves.
Others would turn to Matthew 10:16, where we have Jesus sending out the apostles on their first mission. “Stay alert,” He says. “This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove” (The Message). Here Jesus seems to be saying, detect and avoid danger while giving no provocation or offense.
Maybe these missionaries aren’t facing anything that different from most of our own day-to-day experience. Just more extreme. When was the last time you let your neighbors or coworkers in on the fact that a part of your objective in your relationship with them is to see them come to Christ and have Him totally change their lives?
With God, all things are possible. —Matthew 19:26
It comes down to this. In order for some of our missionaries to be allowed entrée to the places they believe God has called them to preach the Good News, they must preach that word within a set of laws and restrictions. They must be particularly sensitive to the culture that surrounds them, and their motivation must be unquestionably the greater good of those they come to help. In places like China and Pakistan and “Southeast Asia,” this can seem like a mission impossible, but these missionaries cling daily to the truth we must all remember: “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).